Walking Iowa with the governor

So, Governor Tom Vilsack began his "walk across Iowa" today and I drove up to Holmes, Iowa to see him speak at his noon-time stop.  First, I must confess that the pen I had in my pack stopped working earlier today but the nice folks at the North Central Cooperative gave me a souvenier pen so some folks might argue that the notes I am about to type were brought to you by the North Central Cooperative "where service is central" (it says so right on the pen).

There was a barbecue out behind the co-op building where they grilled up a couple dozen hamburgers for the folk who stopped by to hear the governor.  When Vilsack was introduced by the co-op manager, Vilsack was given a new co-op cap to replace his John Deere cap.  The co-op guy also gave Vilsack something to take home to the wife:  a nice spatula for the kitchen — presumably the one in Mount Pleasant, not the one at Terrace Hill. 

I stood at the top of the steps to listen and take notes as Vilsack stood behind the counter where business is conducted to speak to the crowd.  From my vantage point behind the guy wearing the Fountain City Choppers of Goldfied, Iowa t-shirt I could see not only Vilsack but the window behind him.  Twice during his 45 minutes in front of that window I watched through the window as two truckers pulled their semis onto the scales to be weighed.  The first trucker opened the door at the bottom of the steps, saw the crush of people, heard the governor, then went around to the other door and stood, waiting for his weigh slip to be delivered to him.  The second trucker walked right up the stairs, around a few guys in the crowd to the side of the counter and got his weigh slip. 

Vilsack was asked a few questions about hog confinements (one questioner suggested taxing confinements differently "as an industry, not as agriculture") and at the end a fellow praised Vilsack for pushing through the rule that gives DNR director Jeff Vonk the authority to veto a livestock confinement construction permit.  In the middle of Vilsack’s answer to that lauditory remark, another man piped up and said "But we don’t want 99 different sets of rules."  Vilsack responded by saying Vonk would only use his discretion in cases where "nobody" would want manure spread or a confinement built.

There was one question about CIETC, asking how the state would get the money back.  One fellow went on at length about the state of education, the economy, communist China and other related topics — at one point suggesting the U.S. government should start guaranteeing every American kid gets a college degree.  Vilsack didn’t jump on that bandwagon.  Another fellow in the back asked Vilsack when the property tax system would be reworked, because commercial property’s getting socked under the present system.  My count showed 12 baseball-style caps in the room (including the one Vilsack wore — his new co-op cap) and there was one cowboy hat-wearing listener.   

Vilsack’s staff handed out a sheet to everyone in the room, titled "The Vilsack/Pederson Administration:  Changing the Landscape of Iowa."  This particular edition had stats specific to Wright County, such as a total of over $111 million in transportation investments from the state during Vilsack’s tenure (I’m sure that’s counting Highway 20 dollars); the 129 landscape trees planted in Wright County by the state; the $186,050 spent to improve Watershed at Bid Wall Lake Restoration Project; the 103 new Wright County children signed up for HAWK-I in 2005 — "a 114 percent increase since 1999."  The sheet also braged about "investments in education" that improved the high school graduation rate, but it is unclear from the way the document’s drafted if that’s a declaration about the entire state or about Wright County specifically. 

The Governor’s Walk Across Iowa has a logo this year, too.  It’s a circle with two wind turbines inside — one’s in the foreground, the other’s in the background.  "Changing the Landscape of Iowa" is the theme (you may have guessed that by now).  Vilsack handed out a few shirts to the co-op folks in Holmes and the two hamburger grillers.  Vilsack, though, is publicly dissing his staff’s choice of an aqua color for some of the shirts.  Vilsack prefers the white shirt to the aqua.  And he indicated there is some debate among staff (with him as a participant, no doubt) as to the actual name of the color.  In my opinion, it’s aqua and he doth protest too much.

After the governor planted a tree in Holmes, he set off to walk to Clarion.  I walked the 6.2 mile route as well.  After walking with and being interviewed by a reporter from the Fort Dodge Messenger, Vilsack spent much of the rest of the first mile chatting with a fellow who is a retired union worker living in the area.  I got to interview the governor as well and we covered a wide variety of topics.  At mile five-ish (I didn’t have a pedometer, ok?), there was a stop for liquid refreshment and I was handed a bottle of water.  I noticed it bore a label featuring a picture of the statehouse, with portraits of Governor Tom Vilsack and Lt. Governor Sally Pederson, too.  It was bottled by Fort Dodge Bottling, and the label has an address for "Futures" at 321 12th St., Des Moines, IA 50539.  (I’m guessing they hand these things out at "COME BACK TO IOWA, PLEASE" receptions.)  Anyway, I remarked about the label, and one of the troopers joked that he’d put his bottle up on E-Bay.  Governor Vilsack then joked that the trooper had to pay somebody to take it.

Once the walking entourage was in Clarion, a school-bus-load of kids passed by and yelled in unison: "Hello governor" as they waved their hands and arms out the windows.  It was at this point the governor talked about his early morning experience in Eagle Grove, where he got a "group hug" from the third grade class he spoke to.  One of the kids at the end of the governor’s time asked if they could have a "group hug" and when the governor apparently gave the all-clear the kids rushed Vilsack. 

Vilsack made it to the Clarion Hospital shortly before four, and after a tour he spoke to a crowd of about 50 there.  Most of the questions from the crowd were national in scope.  (No one at either stop questioned or chastized him about the Kelo bill veto override, for example.)  When Vilsack was opining about the dangers of the federal budget deficit during his remarks in Clarion, one woman in the back of the group said loudly "I agree!"  It was at about this point when Vilsack said "folks have got to start listening to ordinary people" — in reference to the public’s dissatisfaction with Beltway hijinks.  He did use the K-Street line he’s used before, but this time he explained where and what K-Street is.  Other questions focused on making health care insurance and prescription drugs cheaper, on raising the minimum wage and on making sure the oil companies aren’t gouging consumers. 

At the end, a woman yelled out "Why don’t you run for president?" and Vilsack responded: "That’s for a later day."  Then Vilsack called organizers of the Clarion meeting up to the front to collect their t-shirts.  Oh, and while Vilsack was reading the declaration he signed honoring Clarion, he mispronounced the name of Iowa’s hat lady, who apparently lives in Clarion and apparenlty is not Christie Vilsack.  Vilsack quickly acknowledged his verbal mis-step and said he’d probably get in trouble with his hat-loving wife.  Perhaps he can placate her with the spatula.



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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Five years ago I interviewed Tom Vilsack on a Walk Across Iowa. It is the second interview on Episode 59 of “Perils For Pedestrians”, now available on Google Video at:
    Contents of Episode 59 (2001):
    –A new safety device for transit buses.
    –Governor Vilsack walks across Iowa.
    –The Fifth Annual Native American Lifesavers Conference in Bismarck, ND.
    –Pedestrians form 25 percent of traffic fatalities in Indian Country.
    –Bike-Walk Virginia meets in Charlottesville, VA.
    –An old pedestrian mall is seeing new life in Charlottesville, VA.
    –The League of American Bicyclists hosts a legislative summit in Washington, DC.
    –The Thunderhead Alliance promotes local bicycle advocacy.
    Thank you.